Kimberley Specialists in Research: Cane Toad Science Project
(It’s not just about the number of cane toads caught)
21st APRIL 2006
Over three years ago, Lee Scott-Virtue, President of the Kununurra based Kimberley Specialists in Research (KSIR) and Kimberley Specialists in Tourism, and award winning environmental campaigner, initiated a Cane Toad Project based in Kununurra.
As usual, in her usual proactive style, Lee had been looking with concern across the WA/NT border at feral pigs, ngoora burr and cane toads heading towards her country, the East Kimberley. Lee decided that is was the cane toads that needed her attention most and knowing little about them she set about raising the funds to bring all the scientists she could find to come to Kununurra to teach the community everything they knew about cane toads.
“The imminent threat that could be the greatest threat to the already threatened flora and fauna of the East Kimberley fragile ecosystems was enough,” says Lee Scott-Virtue. A common response to this was that you will never stop them and you are wasting your time and money. For anyone that knows Lee, this was a challenge not a damper on her will.
Lee’s inclusive approach to environmental campaigns was well known in Kununurra, see for example the same approach to her Kimberley Fire Campaign in 2001 – 2003, which resulted in initiatives from the State and local governments about their approach to fire regimes in the East Kimberley.
It came as no surprise to those who know Lee, that the funds were raised to bring the scientists and cane toad campaigners to Kununurra, the 2 day Cane Toad Scientific Forum was organised by Lee through her company KSR, the presentations were recorded and circulated, the draft papers were published, a cane toad website was established, Lee was off toadbusting with donated or borrowed equipment with anyone who could volunteer their time to toadbust, and the KSIR toadbusters’ results were published for anyone to use (or abuse or poach).
What was obvious to Lee from the presentations and research she had undertaken was that it did not appear that there had been scientific field work undertaken or published about fighting a cane toad from forward of a front line advance in country like the East Kimberley. When it became clear to Lee that she and Dean could not afford to continue to finance the KSIR project, the Kimberley Toad Busters Inc (of which Lee is also President) was born to toadbust and fundraise to toadbust separately from KSR.
Lee (an ecotour operator and archaeologist specialising in Bradshaw Rock Art) and her partner Dean (an electrical contractor) finally got married on a cane toad bust last April. Together, their outside work hours are consumed by toadbusting science and field work. They have contributed around 80 volunteer hours a week toadbusting for over 13 months, taken a lot of time off their income earning occupations for toadbusting duties and donated over $170,000 (around $105,000 in cash) of their own income to fund the KSIR cane toad project and toadbusting. KSR and the KTBs have relied on volunteers and donations. KSR received $15,000 from DEC (CALM) Kununurra for the campaign. The commercial fundraiser, Biodiversity Protection WA has fundraised for desperately needed equipment and recurrent costs for the KTBs to the amount of around $109,000. To date, neither KSR nor the Kimberley Toad Busters Inc have had any direct funding from the WA or Northern Territory governments or WA government supported cane toad fundraising organisations. Not a moment too soon, the federal government is now supporting the KTBs and this has meant that the KTB volunteers can spread their toad survey and reconnaissance, and toadbusting to both corridors through which the cane toads will enter the Ord River system.
Lee has been very clear about what she wanted from toadbusting. To the frustration (and queasiness of most, many of our toadbusters are women and children) of some Lee has insisted that we find out about as much as we can about EACH TOAD we catch. So a toadbust comprises night toadbusting a few hours sleep and then up early to analyse, count and euthanase. To make the task less onerous and more effective (the toads smell terrible once they are dead), the toads are analysed alive.
The science is hard because everyone is tired and wants to go home (up 3-8 hour drive away, some of which is on dirt roads). The toads are smelly, disgusting and still lively after a few hours waiting in bags while the toadbusters sleep. Then the dead toads are even more disgusting (because of the stomach churning sour overpowering smell that pervades nostrils and clothes) to empty into a hole dug by the toadbusters for burial.
Toadbusting is taxing, onerous and back breaking.
Some in the cane toad industry, have laughed at wet season toadbusting. Many in the cane toad industry read all the published results to use for money making ventures. Lee and Dean do not care as long as she has the funds to toadbust as KSIR needs, after close consultation with the KTBs, DEC Kununurra, the Cane Toad Working Group based in Kununurra and the scientists who are researching cane toads, from time to time is required and continue her unique research into a colonising front through Kimberley Specialists in Research. Some “experts” from out of town roundly criticise Lee and the toadbusters and even publish that criticism.
Both Lee and Dean, and KSIR welcome comment and informed criticism because KSIR want their project to be successful and part of the solution. When the criticism is directed to diverting funding to the cane toad industry as opposed to keeping the feral invasion at bay, this breaks the hearts and minds of the KTBs because they so desperately need support and funding for their investigation of a colonising front from the clear end.
No-one has the expertise that the KSIR and the KTBs now have about a colonising front of cane toads from this end.
It’s also ab
Work on Frog Dam
He concentrates on numbers
He says expertise is catching
He says has to go night after night
Key word consistency
Cane toad behaviour – they learn about toadbusters, how do they send out a message
Cane toad behavior us different at a colonising front from
Sawyer = is was about numbers, he worked on toads behind front, he says it is about trapping and now about fences, he says it is about wiping them all out and numbers, he says that we missed them, he does not understand behavour, he always said femles move forward first, at frog dam he found females move forward but extrapolated wrongly, the big toads out of Auvergne have been their for years but he has shot himself I the foot because this proves Lee that the big ones go forward, females are away from the males, males move forward in huge numbers – Esplanande (334 calling males) and Brownies = ??, 13 – 14 cm males, dominant male, Fitzroy = same.
This year was facilitated by best wet in years, so this has been wet land movement, and plus VIct River has been brilliant vehicle that helped facilitate caen toad movt, and other factor is not dealing with single corridor, forward movt down a corridor to major breeding zone, > 2 corridors into each of breeding zones – wherTe high high survival rates, identical, where breeding has taken place there are a number of big toads who have already started to move on before food run out and before vast numbers that are competing, greater survival rate, have we got it wrong?, so at colonising front are we looking at 50% survival rate, and also the accelerated process of development from egg to tadpole – 13 – 18 hours (measured by Lee and DEC) and appears to be accelerated development from tadpole to metamorph, set off genetic warning system before food runs because it is time to move on, BIG toads that move on are healthy, and the big ones that stay are not healthy, Lee looks laterally with a birds eye view and looking at the bigger picture, SO there is continuous movement forward in the 2 ways, small wet will determine waves from Bradshaw and from east across Battle Creek, This wet season monitoring monitor will be crucial because we had last season data, Sawyer says wet season catching and monitoring is waste of time, so many more variables in wet season, in dry season they will just be at water and not so many variables, DEC doing experiments – the are scientifically recording sex in an area, their seems to be a pecking order, when sun goes down you pick up males and then later pick up females, where mix of large males and females – females will be up and away from the water and males will be in the water, Lee says – autopsy females well away from water to see why are they away IS It ABOUT something else and not about pecking, do females move away for more food to get sufficient food,
This all lead to field strategies that must still be adaptive as more is find out.
STOP THE TOAD FOUNDATION
Is promoting confusion that they are part of the Kimberley Toad Busters and that they are supporting the KTBs, when they are not.
Contrary to the publicity by the STTF:
STTF have conducted only 2 toad musters, both on Auvergne Station – one for 4 days and one for 6 weeks.
STTF have not published the specific results of their 2 media musters to DEC or the KTBs or on their website.
STTF claim that their employee Derel Monks is an STTF/DEC employee and this does not appear to be the case.
STTF claimed that funds from Art Auctio were going to the cane toad front and they have not.
STTF claimed to have traps in the field prior to the October toad muster and they have not and traps in the field.
STTF did not obtain permission to enter Auvergne Station on their first muster and as a result of this have hindered KTBs from continuing their campaign on Auvergne.
STTF staff and volunteers have not been identifying themselves as toadbusters at the WA/NT quarantine checkpoint.
STTF have not provided any support to the KTB Inc.
STTF have denigrated the work of the KTBs.
STTF have defamed KTBs on their website.
STTF have paid Timber Creek aboriginal toadbusters, who were trained by the KTB as volunteers.
Graham Sawyer is not leading the toadbuster campaign in the Northern Territory, the KTBs have been busting every weekend in the NT, with some toadbusters also busting during the week.
STTF will not publish an itemized explanation of how the $500,000 State govt grant has been published.
The CCWA have received $78,000 for cane toad donations and have spent $103,000 on the cane toad campaign, none of which has reached the KTBs. An itemized account of this expenditure has not been published and was not presented to the CCWA 2006 AGM.
The dingo training by Sarah Fyfe is through a KTB initiative and is nothing to do with the STTF.
STTF use the field data and cane toad from information from the KSR website for developing strategies from Perth.